“The Now” – The Present Moment Fallacy

“We should live by being true to the purpose of each moment.”
― Rati Tsiteladze

At some point in my spiritual journey, I was introduced to the concept of ”The Now”. I accepted the understanding that life happens only in the present moment, that all worry belongs in the past and all fear belongs in the future. I began to follow the precept that there are only two things in life, those that can be controlled, and those that cannot. For those that can be controlled, we have the power to effect outcomes, to alter the process or results, or to choose our reactions to the events. And, since we can control these areas of life, there is no reason to worry or fear them. For those areas we cannot control, such as the weather, other people’s reactions or perceptions, or our own biological process, since we cannot control them, it makes no sense to spend energy in worry or fear, since that changes nothing.

The deeper I travelled into the realm of “The Now”, the more I began to understand, there truly is nothing that exists outside of what is occurring in the moment in which it is occurring. Regardless if it lies within our ability to control, or belongs to the Hand of God, nothing happens at any point other than this magical ”Now”. Yet, no matter how hard I sought to exist in this moment of time, I could not define exactly where it was. The moment I would state “This moment here is ‘The Now’”, what was the present had already moved into the past. I could not identify the moment, only witness it as it passed.

I considered the moment must be smaller than a second in length, since I could watch the second hand on a clock and could see the definite period of time between one second and the next. If I could identify the passing of a second, then there must be a beginning of, and an ending to that second. Measuring by half-seconds also created simply two smaller segments of time, each with a point of origin, or a genesis, and a point of departure. And since those could be identified, they two must be comprised of smaller segments of time. The deeper I went into the understanding of this phenomenon, the more I realized, there is no ”Now”.

Instead, what exists is no more than a transition from what is coming into what has been. A journey from future to past, from potential to experience, or from desire to memory. There is no definable moment, regardless of how small one might attempt to measure, in which the present moment exists. Life was not Past, Present and Future, but simply a flow. What is meant to be simply became that which was. Anything beyond this is no more than another attempt of Man to identify, clarify, categorize or name that which cannot be labelled. And since the past is truly no more than our memory of the perception of what occurred, and the future is nothing more than our perception of what might be, where sits what is real?

If I prick my finger with a pin, pain is felt. That pain feels real, so it must exist. Yet for something to exist, it must exist at some point of time that is real. Since that point in time cannot be identified, then is the pain real? Is it nothing more than the memory of something we felt? As the pin travels closer and closer to the finger, the potential for pain exists in the future, not the now. By the time the impulse travels from the impact of the pin on our finger to the pain center in our brains, an infinite number of immeasurable periods of “time” have already flowed across this transitory bridge from future (potentiality) into past (experience). There is no point in which the pain exists in the present, and yet it is real. Our bodies tell us it was real. The pain had to exist at some point if we are to have a memory of it, right?

I began to experiment with other things, like dropping an egg on the counter. My eyes told me the egg fell, that it struck the counter and broke open, yet I still could not identify the exact “present moment” in which this occurred. There simply was the egg, the potential for mess, the transition into mess, and then there was the mess. Each moment was nothing more than a movement from one into the other. There was no distinct point in which it actually occurred. It was only a gradual becoming of brokenness, nothing more.

Which left me wondering, if there is no definable, precise moment which can be identified as being “The Now”, then how are we supposed to exist there? How does one achieve the status of enlightened being if there is no ” Now” to be present to? There must be a point where everything happens, when it is no longer potential, and still not yet memory. I was stumped. For years I went on, politely nodding my head when friends or colleagues talked about “The Now”. I read dozens of books written on the topic of the present moment, spent countless hours in meditation trying to find that point where it exists. All for naught. Because, simply put, there is no ‘present moment’. It is a fallacy, a man-made definition that provides us with some comfort and assumed control over a reality that is anything but controllable. We are simply trying to identify with that which is beyond identification. We are trying to make human that which belongs to God.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we are unable to find identification with reality in life, or that we are constantly being controlled by a higher power. Not at all. We have great freedom in the development of our lives, but only to the point that we understand the relationship in which we exist. Let’s look at this from the aspect of that which can be controlled, and that which cannot be controlled. I think we can agree that everything in the past is outside our control. We cannot go back and make a different decision, or choose a different action, or recall our words once spoken. Our only relationship we have with the past is in choosing how we remember it, because what we remember is ours. It comes from our personal perceptions, and therefore belongs to us uniquely. I cannot give you my memories. I can help you understand my perception of what I recall, or share my version of an event with you, but I cannot provide you with my understanding.

I believe we can also agree that we cannot control the future. We can make changes in our lives in hopes of bringing about a specific outcome, but we cannot control what happens. The closer the future approaches the transitory bridge from potential to experience, the greater our capacity to respond to pending events, but we do not control them. If I drop an egg, but I catch it before it strikes the counter, I did not control the future, only adjusted the potential of ‘brokeness’ from that which is highly likely to an experience where that potential did not manifest. It was my choice to at first drop the egg, opening the doorway to the potential of ‘brokeness’, and it was my choice to catch it, thereby ending the potential of a broken egg. Yet until the event made the transition from potential to experience, there was still the opportunity to experience a broken egg. I may have attempted to catch the egg and missed it. Or I may have squeezed my hand too hard at the moment of catching, shattering the shell even though that was no longer my intent. But all that would have happened was the transition between future and past, I would not be controlling the future.

Likewise with the desires of our life. We always have the ability to affect the potentiality of what is approaching this transition from future into past, but we can control neither. All we can do is to learn from what has been, take our positions regarding what we would like to see happen next, make changes to our behaviors as things progress, and then choose how to perceive and recall what transpired. The better our roadmap of our experiences is, the more detailed we can perceive the path we have traveled, the greater the likelihood that we can anticipate what will come next, and in some ways prepare for that. Our true sense of being is simply that. To be aware of the transition of events, and to consciously choose our response and next action.

If our spouse, family memeber, co-worker or friend does something that makes us angry in the moment of our perception of what is ooccurring, great! There is nothing wrong with the feeling of anger. Choosing to transfer anger into blame, or choosing to treat the other person in a way that goes against what we feel in our hearts to be the best possible response is simply that – our choice. Once a choice is made, we have simply transitioned from potential into experience again. We are now faced with the experience of their response (or nonresponse) to our choosing anger, and our next choice in accepting responsibility for our last action. We must accept that no one chose the anger we felt except for us. We are the only ones that decide what price is paid in each moment of transition. As potential becomes experience and crosses over the bridge, our true and only moment of reality comes in the price we accept for that moment of transition.

The emotions we attach to the event come at some cost. To feel anger is to expend energy. It may not be a conscious effort to create the initial period of anger, but any attachments to, or continuation of the anger does come at a cost. In fact, the anger we feel today is in reality no more than the payment of a debt we created for ourselves in a past moment through the association of attaching meaning to another event. Let me break that down. At some point in the past, something happened, and you chose to identify it by giving it meaning. Someone forgets your birthday, you decide that means they don’t love you. Now, anytime a similar event comes up, or something triggers the memory of the forgotten birthday, you associate with the feeling of not being loved. The person who pays the price for this is yourself, as it denies your ability to make a truly unbiased choice of how to respond to any future events. Your choice to feel angry because you suddenly feel unloved has nothing to do with the other persons actions, and everything to do with the debt you have collected over time regarding your feelings of being worthy of love.

This is the core of life. We live not in some unidentifiable present moment, but at the toll bridge of transition from future to past. We, and we alone, associate the price we are willing to pay in the future for each moment that transitions into the past. How long we hold our emotions, how much we identify with the attachment of meaning to the events as they pass, how much we try to resist the future we are in the process of creating, all fall in our hands and ours alone. As the opening quote stated, we only need to recognize the purpose of each moment as it transitions. Each moment is an opportunity to forgive the debts we chose to assign to our past events. We can pay the price willingly, or we can add additional debt to this new moment as it transitions, making the price of future events even harder to forgive.

It is in this moment of transition that we create our lives. It is in this moment of transition that we become that which we are destined to be. And we create that destiny through the way we associate our lives with past events, moments in time that never truly existed. All that existed was the transition from what was about to happen into what did happen. All we are left with is our choice to perceive those events in the way we do. We can create inescapable debt through the continuation of adding cost to our memories of the past, or we can create freedom through the detachment of adding meaning that does not exist anywhere other than within our own hearts. For me, I choose freedom. Yes, I still have debts from my past that must be dealt with, but I am finding it so much easier to simply forgive those debts than to continue paying the price.

Future events may come with some cost if I want the life I desire. And that’s fine with me. I’ll cross that bridge when that moment comes.